Elder abuse is an ever-increasing problem in nursing homes today. As the number of elderly Americans grows, the 2010 Census recorded 13 percent of the U.S. population to be over the age of 65, so does the possibility of abuse at the hands of a caregiver. The National Center on Elder Abuse found in 2009 that 3.2 million Americans lived in long-term care facilities. In a 2000 study, cited by the NCEA, 45 percent of patients in nursing homes reported having been abused and 95 percent reported being the victim of neglect, or seeing another patient suffer neglect.
Such abuse and neglect is unacceptable and unlawful. The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act provides certain rights to patients in long-term care facilities. Among these rights is the right not to be abused or neglected. The law defines abuse as "any physical or mental injury or sexual assault inflicted on a resident other than by accidental means."
Who is required to report abuse and why is it under reported?
Healthcare providers, social workers, and state law enforcement officials are all required to report any suspected abuse to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Unfortunately, for various reasons, nursing home abuse incidents are suspected to be vastly underreported. The study, Mandatory Reporting of Elder Abuse: Between a Rock and Hard Place, found that physicians can be reluctant to report abuse for fear of harming the doctor-patient relationship. Some physicians feel that by revealing information given to them in the privacy of the doctor's office, the patient may feel betrayed and will be less likely to confide any future abuses.
There is also an issue of patients under-reporting abuse they are subject to. Patients may not report their abuse for a number of reasons. They may fear retaliation by their abuser, they may feel embarrassed. They may be suffering from a mental disorder which hampers their ability to understand what is happening and seek help such as Alzheimer's or another form of dementia.
The NCEA found that elders with some form of dementia are at an increased risk of abuse. A 2009 study found that close to 50 percent of elders with dementia had suffered some form of abuse and another study found 47 percent had been mistreated by their caregiver. Of that abuse, 60 percent was found to be verbal. Verbal abuse occurs when a care taker is overly aggressive, yells in anger, threatens, speaks in a harsh tone, curses at, or says demeaning things to a patient.
What you can do to prevent further abuse.
When visiting relatives in nursing homes this holiday season, take extra care to observe their state. One warning sign of abuse, verbal or physical, can be a shying away from, or showing fear of a specific caregiver within the facility. If you suspect a loved one may be abused or neglected, speak to an experience elder law attorney in your area. They can advise you on when and to whom to report the abuse and give guidance on any legal claim you or your loved one may have.